If Guyana returns to political dictatorship under the APNU+AFC, my advice to all Guyanese is to try to get your children out of this country. All the oil in world is not going to ensure that they will ever enjoy a decent life here.
Guyana has found itself in its present predicament because the older generation – the same ones who like to lecture young people about what is right and wrong – condoned political dictatorship because of ethnic loyalties. The economy shriveled under dictatorship, corruption was rampant and discrimination was the order of the day. A return to those days is not something anyone should welcome, regardless of which political party you support.
It is important therefore that persons recognize the early-warning signs of dictatorship. It is important they understand how dictatorship incubates itself and the early symptoms which can point to the later emergence of this full-blown political disease.
Walter Rodney in a speech-entitled “People’s Power, No Dictator” provided some pointers. Readers should ask themselves whether they see any of these symptoms emerging as yet.
First is the cult of personality in which leaders are aloof as if they are superior beings. Rodney noted that Idi Amin considered himself a physical and intellectual giant. Amin even once challenged the great Muhammad Ali to a fight. Eric Gairy, a Caribbean dictator, dabbled in the occult and harboured illusions of being an expert in science.
Burnham created his own cult of personality. His loyalists spread the myth that he was a superb orator, before Eusi Kwayana exposed his mimicry of Churchillian pauses. Burnham’s picture adorned the covers of exercise books which were distributed free to school children. Modern day dictators erect billboards.
Dictators and would-be dictators are obsessed with pomp and pageantry. Burnham, for example, dressed himself, quite ridiculously, in a General’s uniform, even though his military skills could hardly command a boys’ scout.
The second characteristic of a dictator, according to Rodney, was that he was accountable and responsible to no one. The dictator sees himself as all-powerful, holding in his palm the existence of people. It is for this reason, Rodney argued, that civil rights are threatened under dictatorship, because nothing is given as a right but only as a favour of the supreme ruler.
The third feature of dictatorship, according to Rodney, was arbitrary rule. The dictator is bound only by his interpretation of things; he makes his own rules and supersedes the rule of law with arbitrary decisions. Dictators are not worried about court rulings. They surmise their own interpretations of the law. They flout the law and when they are overruled by the courts, they change the law to make their actions legal.
The fourth characteristic of a dictator is that they tend generally to surround themselves with mediocrity, opportunists, lackeys, boot-lickers and stooges. Burnham had many of these around him who, if he kicked them in the butt, would thank him for the compliment. It is said that one Christmas morning he sent for the head of a government corporation. When the man arrived, Burnham told him he had a headache and wanted him to get some painkillers.
The fifth feature was abuse. Burnham had begun, the latter days of his rule, with contempt. Burnham would speak to you as he pleased and there was nothing you could do about it. He forced public servants, including senior executives, to go to Hope Estate and do menial work while he rode around on his horse like an emperor.
It was said that if he saw a member of his staff whom he desired, he would simply tell his guards to bring them over to the Residence – his official office. One of the reasons why ASCRIA broke with him was over the sexual molestation in his government to which he turned a blind eye.
The sixth characteristic of dictatorship, according to Rodney, was the employment of the art of manipulation. According to Rodney, there was nothing which was seen as outside of the reach of Burnham. This is why, argued Rodney, dictators tend to confuse the public treasury with their own private bank books. Dictators, he noted also, are prone to spite vendetta and the politics of grudge.
Finally, he noted that dictators fall under the illusion of being efficient, when in fact their rule stifles initiative and creativity. In the name of efficiency, they try to control everything and everyone. The dictator tries to dominate all political space by suppressing criticism and opposition and by involvement in trivial matters.
Rodney’s exposé of dictatorship provides the present generation with signs by which they can judge dictatorial tendencies of political leaders. Dictators present themselves as supermen, they cultivate a cult of personality, are accountable to no one, are prone to unilateral decisions and actions, surround themselves with ‘yes’ men, are masters of manipulation and delude themselves and their subjects that things are better than they seem.
Do you see any early signs of such tendencies in our present leadership? If you do, get your children on the next plane out of Guyana.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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